Why Is 'Closest to the Pin' Known as 'KP' in Golf?

Measuring to determine the winner of a KP contest, or closest to the pin
Taking measurements for a closest to the pin, or KP, contest. Tom Grizzle/Getty Images

In golf, "closest to the pin," or "closest-to-the-pin contest," refers to the contest that is a staple at charity tournaments, corporate outings and such. On a designated par-3 hole, distances are measured throughout the day and the golfer who, at the end of the day, has put his or her tee shot closest to the flagstick on the designated hole wins a prize.

It is very common, at least in the U.S., for the "closest-to-the-hole competition" to be abbreviated as "KP." As in, "Today's KP winner is ..."

Key Takeaways

  • In golf, "KP" is an abbreviation that is commonly used for "closest to the pin."
  • A closest-to-the-pin contest is one in which golfers compete on a par-3 hole to see who can place their tee shot closest to the hole.
  • Golfers playing in an association tournament, charity tournament or corporate outing are the ones most likely to see a sign at the golf course announcing a KP contest.

Where did that "K" come from? Why is "closest to the pin" abbreviated as "KP" and not "CP"? That is one of the most frequently asked questions that we've been asked over the years, believe it or not. And after much time spent looking into the question, we are ready to announce the findings of our exhaustive research:

The reason closest to the pin is known as KP is ... well, it just is.

Seriously: There is no "real" reason. By that we mean there is no defining moment at which point it was decided and set down that, henceforth, closest to the pin would be known as KP. I consulted a ton of websites and a lot of golf books. I asked a lot of people a lot smarter than me. I also asked a lot of golf pros, most of whom responded by staring blankly, as if I'd just asked them to explain the Theory of Relativity; or — and worse, owing to the enormous numbers involved — calculate my handicap index in their heads.

Meaningful Speculations

Michael Lamanna, who is definitely smarter than me, is a PGA Professional and highly regarded golf instructor who has spent decades working at golf clubs from New York to Texas to Arizona. He didn't know the answer, either, but had an interesting observation. Mike pointed out that "it couldn't have been a golf pro who came up with it because a pro would have called it 'closest to the flagstick.' Pros know that 'pin' does not exist in the rule book."

An emailer once suggested that KP might stand for "keenest position." And that was actually the best suggestion I received during my research.

I had come to the conclusion that the reasoning behind "KP" was likely one of two things. First, that at some golf course running a closest-to-the-pin contest, the abbreviation "CP" was already applied to something else. So "KP" was substituted, and it just kind of stuck.

Second, that some tournament director somewhere was feeling a bit krazy one day, and wrote down "klosest to the pin." And KP arose from that and wound up sticking.

What I do know is this: There is no defining reason for closest to the pin to be called KP. It's simply something that started somewhere (where and when having been lost in a water hazard off the No. 7 fairway), caught on, spread and became accepted practice. Leading us to today, when golfers showing up for a playday, charity event or corporate outing might see a sign announcing a "KP contest on No. 7 today."

And that conclusion was finally confirmed for me by no less an authority than the USGA Library, whose Patty Moran wrote in reply to an inquiry: "There is no reason. It is a colloquialism."

Or, as I like to spell it, kolloquialism.